Directed by Tim Van Patten | Written by David Chase | 52 min
We’re going to Italy!
By Colin Hart
8.5 / 10
“Commendatori” is an episode that is a little worse than I remembered. Once again, this is The Sopranos we’re talking about, so I’m speaking relatively here— “worse” and “bad” aren’t to be taken at face value. Yet this being The Sopranos, a certain level of excellence is still required, or rather, expected.
“Commendatori” puts the main plot of season two on hold as Tony and the gang travel to Italy for business. Some other possible ire towards this episode: the main plot (action, in other words) has basically been on hold ever since the season one finale. There has been plenty of tonal table-setting to start this sophomore season and the burn has been slow—a one-off trip to Italy isn’t necessarily going to lurch the plot forward.
Early in the episode, Tony nostalgically remarks that his favorite scene in The Godfather is when Vito returns to Sicily in Part II. There is plenty of nostalgia associated with “Commendatori,” being that the characters are about to embark on a pilgrimage to the Mafioso Mecca. Tony remains reserved about the trip, while Carmela feels slighted that she can’t come along. Uncle Junior, who is now under house arrest, reflects on how he never will end up going. The very idea of the trip is almost sacred to these characters.
When the crew—Tony, Chris and Paulie—get to Naples, there is a big focus on the new setting. This is location shooting, after all, dip into that budget and treat yourself. But director Tim van Patten never overwhelms us with traditional show-goes-to-special-location (e.g. The Sopranos-goes-to-Italy) fare. No overhead scenery shots or stylish culture-montage. He keeps the episode within The Sopranos slow-burn aesthetic despite the drastic change of location. As Tony explained back in Jersey: “it’s a business trip.”
They soon find out that Italy is completely different than what they expected. For one, the boss of the Naples family is a young woman named Annalisa. Her father, Don Vittorio, is senile and she now acts as head of the Family. It makes Tony uncomfortable doing business with her, the fact she is a woman.
Furthermore, the Italian soldiers don’t take any shit. A young boy sets off firecrackers and Furio Giunta—who has been acting as a guide to the Americans on their trip—mercilessly beats the boy and socks his mother too. Tony and Paulie watch in awe.
The business affairs between Tony and Annalisa aren’t all that important (the main takeaway being that Furio will be sent to Jersey as part of a deal involving luxury cars). The sexual tension between the two bosses is what makes the scenes worthwhile. Annalisa reminds Tony of Dr. Melfi, what with her psychological quips. In turn, Annalisa reminds this reviewer of Isabella, the girl from Tony’s fever dream in season one (mostly in appearance). There is a scene where Tony and Annalisa walk amidst ancient ruins and the same aural quality that pervaded “Isabella” is felt.
Back in Jersey, we get a storyline involving the mobsters’ wives, mainly focusing on Angie Bonpensiero’s existential crisis and Carmela’s reaction to it. This storyline is good for giving some depth to Big Pussy’s storyline, while also giving Carmela her first feature of the season, but it isn’t as interesting as the average Soprano plot.
Pussy, if you’ll remember, is now a reluctant FBI informant and meets with his handler Skip throughout the episode. He has also been extremely cold and loveless to his wife, Angie, ever since his return at the beginning of the season. She contemplates suicide and pursues divorce, which is criticized by the hypocritical Carmela.
Carm only fears that these things might happen in her own life. As a guilty Catholic, she wonders if Tony will one day treat her the same way Pussy treats Angie. The ending scene sees Tony returning home from the trip, showing a dejected Carmela upstairs with a concerning look as she hears “I’m home” booming from downstairs.
Tony leaves Italy glad to be back home, the Jersey factories along the freeway far more welcoming than the coastal towns off the Mediterranean. Paulie, too, is glad to be back home, as he found the Italian culture disappointed him at every turn (even though he’ll never admit that). Chris spent the entire trip in his hotel room, indulging in a heroin stupor with local prostitutes and junkies. He never gets to see the volcano he was originally so adamant about and he doesn’t get Adriana a souvenir until he’s at the airport gift shop in Jersey (on the return flight). The idyllic illusion of Italy is shattered.
As an episode, “Commendatori” is only a blip in season two’s overall hierarchy, but it’s still a decent one-off. The entertainment value may be lacking, but it’s never a bad idea to slow things down and add a little depth, especially at the beginning of a season.
- Andrea Bocelli’s great “Con te partirò” is used throughout the episode—three times, in fact—and it is a much better choice of soundtrack than some hokey Italian folk music that you might expect to hear in a vacation episode. It will end up becoming something like Carmela’s theme song.
- Chris’ heroin scenes also feature fitting music—spacey Italian trip-hop courtesy of Jovanotti.
- More “Richie is gay” theorizing: during Carmela and Janice’s argument over marriage, Janice remarks that “Richie, because of his years in prison, has a sensitivity to the plight of women.” Take that however you want. Carm bursts out laughing and is the de facto winner of the argument.
- “Then he went back to whatever the fuck he was doing. Spraying WD-40 on his pocket knife.”
- “If you give this guy a golf club, he’d probably try and fuck it.”
- “If I want the excitement of Chinese food, I don’t need your permission.”